January 13, 2006

Pundits attack author Frey and unhappy reader sues

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pundits and publishing experts
furiously debated on Friday whether author James Frey should
pass off his memoirs as true when he apparently made up key
details but one reader wants a judge to decide the issue.

Saying they were acting on behalf of Pilar More, a mother
of two, who felt cheated by the revelations about the
truthfulness of "A Million Little Pieces," the Chicago law firm
Dale and Pakenas filed suit in a Cook County, Illinois, court
against the book's publishers, alleging consumer fraud.

The suit seeks status as a class-action lawsuit and lawyer
Thomas Pakenas said it might take up to 60 days to get a
decision. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

He added, "If somebody sells you a cashmere jacket and it
turns out to be polyester, you would feel cheated, right? And
even if the collar and lapels were cashmere, it still would be
consumer fraud. To defend the book as telling the quote
'emotional truth' is just crap."

A spokeswoman for the book's publisher, Doubleday, a
division of the Random House group, said, "We are confident we
will be able to successfully defend this action, but as a
matter of policy we do not comment further on pending
litigation." Random House is a unit of German media
conglomerate Bertelsmann AG.

She also said future editions of the book about Frey's long
road back from alcohol and drug addiction would contain an
author's note but declined to give details.

In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday,
Frey admitted embellishing some details of the book, but
insisted that was part of the memoir-writing business. He also
said that "the emotional truth is there."

His insistence that people who write memoirs are not
writing what he called journalistic truth touched a raw nerve,
especially among journalists, editors and writers who publicly
question whether writing a memoir should be a license to lie.

Many were upset the publishers had defended the book
because it had a large impact on millions of readers who felt
themselves inspired by Frey's story of his recovery.

The New York Times in an editorial on Friday entitled "Call
it Fiction," said, "Even in a nation like ours, which is crazy
for personal redemption, readers are still willing to
distinguish between truth and fiction."

The Times admitted that "a memoir is, indeed, a loose and
slippery genre -- as loose and slippery as memory itself. And
there's a difference, even in publishing, between the lies we
tell about ourselves and the lies we tell about others."


The uproar over Frey's book started when the Smoking Gun
Web site said it could find no public records supporting the
author's claim he had spent three months in jail after trying
to run over a police officer with his car.

Frey's biggest supporter, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, who
had chosen it for her book club, said she still supported him,
although she said she wished his publishers were more

"Although some of the facts have been questioned, the
underlying message of redemption still resonates for me," she
said in a call to King at the end of Frey's interview with him.

Publishers Weekly columnist Sara Nelson said: "Like many
memoirists before him, who, after all, practice what is known
in writing programs as creative nonfiction, Frey produced a
compelling portrait of an addict's life complete with all its
deceptions and grandiosity and he gave the readers what they

"He changed some names to protect the innocent, and some
details to protect, and, it must be said, aggrandize himself.
But he didn't write front-page newspaper profiles of people
he'd never talked to and he never claimed that 'Pieces' was
supposed to be 'All the President's Men.'